As much as I love deep fried sweets I really try to limit their appearance in my kitchen to a few occasions each year. Resisting is hard, but not having the need to gain a few kilos seems to do the trick. When carnival comes though, "resistance is futile". Every year I feel the need to go back to those unctuous, sweet taste I loved as a kid. For this reason (and just to have an excuse to eat fried sweets really) I have just decided to start a tradition on this blog. Every year, for carnival, I will post a different recipe for a typical festive sweet. Last year it was chiacchiere and I already have a list for the next three years. After that... who knows, maybe I will shut Il Forno down out of shame. Sure, extremely likely.
This time I picked castagnole, little fried dough balls traditionally flavored with the aniseed liqueur mistrà. Although castagnole are not as widespread as chiacchiere they can be found from Veneto to Roma and there's quite a few regions fighting for their paternity. According to different sources they might come from Friuli or Veneto, Marche or Romagna, or maybe even Lazio. Pellegrino Artusi author of the first pan-Italian cookbook for the masses, claims the origin of the dish is to be found in Romagna. Guess where Artusi came from.
I will leave the locals to fight for who's tradition this is and concentrate on cooking and eating. There's an incredible number of castagnole recipes on the web, in both Italian and English, all pretty similar. Essentially catagnole are made up of a an egg and fat enriched dough, which might contain baking powder, flavored with aniseed liqueur (or other) and eventually lemon zest, and fried till golden. Somewhat unusual for a fried food, these actually taste better once they cool down, giving them the chance to bring out the subtle flavor of the liqueur. If fried at the right temperature they absorb very little fat, so once cold they do not have that disturbing excessively greasy taste. The recipe I used is a slight modification of the one I found on the Gambero Rosso website. I only changed liqueur, no aniseed stuff in my cabinet, and added some lemon zest. to the dough. The castagnole were really nice, not too sweet, just slightly grasy as these sweets should be and nicely aromatic. I would maybe reduce the baking powder to make them even more doughy, castagnole shouldn't be too puffy in ma book. And now, to the recipe:
makes 60-80 depending on size
300 grams all purpose flour
50 grams sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
70 grams melted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons of rum (or aniseed liqueur if you have some)
the zest of half a lemon, finely chopped
frying oil (or pork lard if you want to be traditional)
powdered sugar to dust the castagnole
Mix the dry ingredients together, except the zest, and sieve them together into a bowl. Add eggs, rum butter and zest and mix till you have a soft smooth dough. Knead for a few minutes.
Cutting a piece of dough at a time, roll the dough to form 2 cm thick cylinders. Cut the cylinders in pieces of the size of a large cherry and roll them between your hands to form little balls.
Meanwhile start heating the oil, in a fryer if you have one or into a deep pot. The oil sis ready when it reaches between 160 and 170C. If the oil is too hot the castagnole will brown too quickly leaving the center half cooked.
Once the oil is ready fry a few castagnole at a time (to avoid cooling the oil too much) till golden brown and puffed up. Drain on kitchen paper and let cool (at least slightly). Dust with confectioner sugar and serve.